By: Kate Hayes. This blog post was originally published by Echoing Green.
At Echoing Green, we firmly believe that having a set of guiding values is essential to living a life that’s right for you and good for the world. But it’s one thing to know these values and principles, and another thing to fully live them as employees and volunteers. When it comes to how leadership is viewed and used, there are some lessons that Echoing Green has learned as we’ve supported people working across sectors to tackle the world’s most pressing issues. We apply what we’ve learned to the leaders we work with in our board leadership program, Direct Impact.
Use Your Personal Mission & Purpose
When our Direct Impact candidates traveled to the Center for Civic Innovation in Atlanta, they found a leader on a mission in Echoing Green Fellow Rohit Malhotra. As CCI’s founder, whether Rohit is having coffee with a large foundation, running into City Hall for a meeting, or hosting an event to talk about the city’s new bike sharing program, it is clear that he truly cares about, and is fundamentally changing, the city of Atlanta, his hometown. As we began to better understand Rohit’s story, we began to see why this work is so important to him. With a background including social entrepreneurship, community organizing, and a Fellowship that brought him to the White House, it is clear why he does that he does—he saw a need and saw how his unique skillset and background could help fill it.
For prospective board members, finding an organization that excites you, keeps you up at night, and wakes you up in the morning, is critical. What would the world look like if we all cared about our hometown or the organization we are a part of the way Rohit does. For us, the better we can equip individuals to take on meaningful board seats, and be fully prepared and inspired to take on the true responsibility of that role, the more we’ll be able to improve the lives of people in every hometown in communities across the globe.
Be Open to Change & Disruption
When Echoing Green Fellow Blair Glencorse founded Accountability Lab, he didn’t know that Nepal would experience two major earthquakes with a multitude of causal effects. But, like all Echoing Green Fellows, he knows that deeply ingrained social problems must be solved with innovative solutions. When our candidates arrived in Kathmandu just days after the one-year anniversary of the earthquake, the group was prepared to see a city still being rebuilt.
After an acute tragedy, like the devastating earthquake that affected so much of Nepal, new solutions must be surfaced. This is why Blair and his team unleash bottom-up solutions to solve challenges of the government. Frustrating phrases so often heard in the social sector, such as “that will never work” or “there is no way we can ever change this system”, don’t register for social entrepreneurs. These phrases shouldn’t be included in the vocabulary of board members either. Instead, seeing the potential of fresh ideas like hosting a film festival, collaborating with other organizations, or a setting up a remote earthquake help desk which mobilizes local residents, to change a country, is absolutely essential.
Be Authentic & Empathetic
Our final visit brought a group of Direct Impact candidates to Rwanda, where the social, emotional, and economic effects of the horrific genocide that resulted in over 1 million deaths are still felt. We spent several days with Echoing Green Fellows Julienne Oyler and Sara Leedom of African Entrepreneur Collective (AEC) in Kigali. The lesson? Empathy cannot be interchanged with understanding, but it certainly must be interchanged with compassion. Here, candidates were deeply impacted by the experiences of many individuals we met in the country – and by the solutions they encountered. Where others see destruction, the AEC and the entrepreneurs they support see opportunity and a brighter future.
As a group traveling from the United States, it was ever more apparent that we must never take on a mindset that we are more equipped to solve social problems in another country. AEC is confident that the solution to every problem in Africa already exists on the continent. Our group visited a coffee washing station two hours outside of Kigali and met a woman who AEC has invested in. She has used their investment in her business to create 35 jobs which provide essential opportunity and a path away from extreme poverty. The work requires concentration as the women meticulously separate coffee beans, but they enjoyed these moments too, at one point breaking out into song. It served as a reminder for board members to be engaged and curious, fueled by a desire to learn about the people their organizations serve. With deeper understanding comes the ability to make a positive impact.
These stories only begin to show the importance of bringing leadership principles to life. Whether in the boardroom or on a site visit, understanding the real life value of each principle is key for every board member. By creating the space to have meaningful experiences that add value, such as a Direct Impact site visit, a person is unintentionally increasing their ability to attract and influence others, through storytelling and sharing. Most importantly, all board members must be confident, yet humble, in all exchanges, so they can not only share important stories that have the power to change the world but also continue to better understand and identify with the people, not data points, who are most directly impacted by the world’s biggest problems.
The next Direct Impact cohort will take place in January 2017. The application will open on September 6, 2016. To sign up for additional information about the application release, email[email protected].